WASHINGTON – Congress on Thursday approved a 90-day extension of a highway construction bill that otherwise would expire on Saturday and shutdown a swath of road projects across the country.

WASHINGTON – Congress on Thursday approved a 90-day extension of a highway construction bill that otherwise would expire on Saturday and shutdown a swath of road projects across the country.

The House approved the extension, 266-158. Democrats who opposed the bill argued that the House should instead approve a two-year highway construction bill that passed the Senate two weeks ago with bipartisan support.

Rep. Mike Ross, D-Prescott, voted against the bill. Reps. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, and Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, voted for it.

“I could not support what will be the ninth short-term extension of the transportation bill,” Ross said. “Congress should remain in session and pass a long-term transportation bill.”

The Senate later approved the temporary extension by voice vote sending it to President Barack Obama, who is expected to swiftly sign it into law.

The Senate and House are not in session again until April 16.

Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., said he was disappointed that the House did not take up the Senate-approved bill. That bill, he said, would support more than 19,000 jobs in Arkansas.

Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., who also backed the Senate bill, said he hopes that over the next 90 days the House and Senate can agree to a long-term transportation bill.

“I hope we do not have another short-term bill,” Boozman said. “In order to do major road projects you really have to have continuity of your funding. You have to know it is going to be there in the future.”

Boozman would prefer a five-year bill but accepted the two-year Senate proposal because it had broad support. The bill was approved 74-22.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials supported passage of the Senate bill saying the bipartisan effort would provide a greater degree of funding certainty for states, consolidate programs and improve accountability.

Congress last approved a transportation bill in 2005 and has kept the program running through a series of continuing resolutions since late 2009. A major stumbling block in passing a new bill has been funding. The program is largely paid for through a federal tax on motor fuels, which has not kept pace with demand for road and transit projects.

“Eventually, the House will pass a bill and we will get to work to iron out all the differences,” Boozman said.

Had Congress failed to pass a temporary extension, as many as 1.8 million construction-related jobs would have been at risk. And, the federal government would also have lost about $110 million a day in uncollected federal motor fuels taxes.